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Writing My First Book Was An Emotional Roller Coaster Similar To My Cancer Journey

June 19th, 2019 |
Young Adult Cancer, Survivorship, Emotional Support

by jessvanzeil | Survivor: Ocular Melanoma    Connect


When I got back from Kokoda, a trip that I had spent 10 months of my life mentally and physically preparing for, I felt a little lost. In 9 days that 10 months of preparation was put to rest and all I had was a wonderful array of memories, a beautiful journal to humble me, and photos to throw me back to the trip.

I looked at the 2018 calendar. I had achieved my biggest goal of the year, and yet there were still 3 months to spare that I hadn’t really accounted for. I wondered what other exciting achievements I could fill those 3 months with. Less than a week later, my question was answered when a publisher approached me about writing a book. My book.  This was something I had thought about doing for years but for some reason, be it be my health, my relapse or other goals like finishing university, it never became a priority. I’ll be honest here and say a part of me was subconsciously avoiding it because my whole cancer journey felt too raw. I had barely overcome it and I was in no hurry to relive the rollercoaster journey I had been on.

For the first time I felt like I had healed enough to actually start writing about it, so I started mapping it out in my head.How I would start, or more importantly where I should start? Was it the misdiagnosis, the actual diagnosis, or when I lost my eye? Do I go back and explain life beforehand? What is my main goal of the book, is it to just be a memoir or is it something more than that?

These sound like that tough questions but in all honesty, formatting the plan was the easiest part of writing.

When I look back I know there were tough times, I know I nearly didn’t make it through but my memories were filled with colour, positivity and gratitude.They were the conscious memories I choose to hang on to, they are the surface level memories. When I started to write however, it was no longer about the surface level stuff, I had to dig deep, I had to relive those days as if they were happening all over again.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, even though I have come out on the other side. Reliving the days where I didn’t believe I was beautiful because I looked different, realising that I hadn’t grieved my grandfather’s passing.

To get through the writing process I had to realise how important it was to watch my energy output and ensure I was refilling my cup. To do that I needed to reach out for help, seeking a psychologist to ensure I truly dealt with the emotional blocks that were coming up. I turned away from social media because I was putting my heart and soul into my book and I couldn’t ask more than that of myself. Every single day I asked myself, “What do I need to do for me today?” I usually found it was a bath, a beach walk, a gym session, or a quick meditation.

Writing my book had been empowering, challenging, healing, overwhelming, fascinating, exhausting… a roller coaster of emotions similar to those I lived through in my cancer journey. Some days I woke up excited to write and others it was like living in my own personal hell, filled with tears and heartache.

However handing it in to my editor, knowing I lived through it, knowing that this book is designed to help so many people overcome their own adversities and challenges in life is amazing. The most beautiful part, however, is that writing this book has helped me heal, helped me face some of the challenges I swept under the rug when I was holding on by my fingertips to survive. I am so incredibly grateful for the emotional journey I have been through because now I have a true appreciation for not only where I have been, but also for where I am going.

Jess xo


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Jess is an eyepatch wearing 23 year old from the Mornington Peninsula. At the age of 21, she was diagnosed with a very rare eye cancer, Conjunctival Melanoma (this is on the white part of your eye). Her treatment for the first eight months was localised surgeries and observation. Unfortunately, just after her 22nd birthday, she was told that it had spread into her  lower eyelid and the only option she had was drastic surgery to remove her eye and eyelid and close over her eye socket for good.  Last September Jess received news last that she is now fighting brain metastases. Despite experiencing some nasty side effects from her treatment, Jess is remaining positive, especially so as recent scans revealed no significant growth or change in the tumours. 


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